Mojo - October 2011

Why New Yorkers Heart #OccupyWallStreet

| Sat Oct. 8, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

In the New York Metro section of Friday's New York Times, Cara Buckley portrays the Wall Street occupiers as an unruly band of outsiders who've come to terrorize the locals. They rudely befoul restaurant bathrooms without buying anything. They crowd moms and baby strollers off the sidewalks. They flash their tits in broad daylight. The image that comes to mind is that of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd gone wild, or college tourists on spring break at the Jersey Shore. 

Even if there's some truth to this, I can confidently say that Buckley and many other reporters are missing something: Occupy Wall Street was bound to happen at some point even if the Manhattan police sealed off every one of the island's bridges and tunnels. The same vast economic disparities that have outraged so many middle class Americans are only magnified here. A little-known fact about Manhattan, otherwise known as New York County, is that it has the highest level of income inequality of any urban county in the nation. The only US county with a wider gap between rich and poor is Willacy County in South Texas, a ranching community packed with unemployed farm workers where one wealthy individual owns a third of the land.

Of course, New Yorkers make much more money on average than people in South Texas, thanks in part to the trickle down from Wall Street. That's one reason many observers at first wrote off Occupy Wall Street as a flash in the pan. But as it stretches into its fourth week, it has struck a chord with many people in the city. Many New Yorkers are working harder for the same pay, and Wall Street's über-wealthy have driven up prices, pushing the merely upper middle class into smaller apartments and farther-flung neighborhoods. 

In the Financial District, the average studio apartment rents for (PDF) more than $2,200 a month (and that excludes apartments with doormen, which cost more). According to a 2006 story in the Gotham Gazette, the district that includes the Financial District and Greenwich Village had the highest median rent of any part of Manhattan. While I couldn't find more recent stats on the area's median housing cost last night, it's safe to assume that most New Yorkers who are hurting from the recession don't live there.

Clearly, many people who make their homes near the New York Stock Exchange feel under siege. What's less clear is how much people in the rest of the city feel sorry for them. While trashing bathrooms or intimidating stroller moms is never OK, those things seem positively tame compared to what New York has inflicted upon itself in class struggles of yore.

Going forward, the mainstream media could do a better job reporting how New Yorkers feel about Occupy Wall Street. And Occupiers from out of town would do well to consider how to bring in more locals, who could help give the movement staying power. It's one of the many things I hope to explore when I set up Mother Jones' outpost in Zuccotti Park later today.

 

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Perry's Values Voters Endorser: Islam is an "Evil, Evil Religion"

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 9:29 PM EDT

On Friday, Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress got the Rick Perry presidential campaign in a bit of trouble when he told reporters at the Values Voters Summit in DC that the governor's top rival, Mitt Romney, belongs to a "cult," and that his membership in an LDS church was a disqualifier as a Republican presidential candidate. Jeffress' appearance on stage to introduce and endorse Perry* was approved by the campaign, and Perry himself praised Jeffress from the lectern.

If the Republican primary turns into a debate about Mitt Romney's Mormonism, that's probably bad news for everyone involved. But the former Massachusetts Governor is in good company when it comes to being slammed by Jeffress. In 2010, the mega-church pastor convened a weekly lectured series called "Politically Incorrect," in which he tackled the kinds of issues that, in his view, society didn't have the courage to confront. "Oprah Winfrey also claims to be a Christian," Jeffress said in one such discussion, "but her teachings are anything but Christian."

But Islam receives by far the harshest criticism from Jeffress. The world's second-largest religion, he explained in a 2010 video (starting at about the 3:40 mark below), is "evil." Here's how he framed his opposition to the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan:

Herman Cain Wins The Birther Vote

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 6:35 PM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain may have made a sudden leap to the top of the polls recently, but he hasn't lost his appeal among the paranoid faction of the Republican Party. After giving a rousing speech Friday at the Values Voter Summit in DC, a large confab of politically active evangelical conservatives, Cain held a book signing in the lobby of the conference hotel. Among the many people lined up to get a book signed was California lawyer and activist Gary Kreep, who told me why he has also decided to line up behind Cain's campaign.

Kreep heads a number of political organizations, including the US Justice Foundation, the Republican Majority Campaign PAC, and even Defend Glenn, an effort to defend Glenn Beck from attacks by liberal interest groups trying to organize boycotts of his advertisers. But he is best known these days as a birther. He has spent years in court trying to challenge the president's citizenship and his eligibility to be president. In 2009, Kreep even created and starred in a "Birthermercial," a 28-minute infomercial that called on viewers to donate $30 to send a fax to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to investigate the president's birth certificate.

Perry's New Endorser Says Romney Belongs to a "Cult" (Audio)

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 5:26 PM EDT
Mitt Romney.

When Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress introduced Rick Perry at Friday's Values Voter summit in Washington, he praised the Texas governor as a man with a "strong committment to Biblical values." Just a short while later, he ripped into Perry's top rival for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of belonging to a "cult"—Mormonism.

Speaking to a gaggle of reporters shortly after finishing up an interivew with the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer—who himself has slammed Romney for his Mormon faith—Jeffress explained that to him, beating Barack Obama is a "spiritual issue." "I really am not nearly as concerned about a candidate's fiscal policy or immigration policy as I am where they stand on what I believe are Biblical issues. And that's why I'm endorsing Governor Perry." That's not especially surprising. Here's what he said, though, when asked by the Dallas Morning-News's Wayne Slater about Romney's faith:

Ex-Gays Jump to Michele Bachmann's Defense

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 4:28 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

The display tables at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, are a cornucopia of conservative red meat. One advertises an upcoming conference on creeping Islamic Shariah law (November 11th in Nashville; register online). Near the entrance, a company advertises something called the "Timothy Plan," which helps investors avoid stocks that are "involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles" (the list includes Disney, CBS, and JP Morgan).

And over near the back doors, there's PFOX (short for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays), an organization dedicated to combating perceived prejudice against people who say they've stopped being gay. As the group's literature puts it, "without PFOX, ex-gays would have no voice in a hostile environment." Ex-gays have long been a staple on the religious right and at gatherings like this, but the organization has found a renewed sense of purpose following last spring's to-do over Rep. Michele Bachmann's Christian therapy clinic. As The Nation first reported, clinics owned by the Minnesota congresswoman and her husband have practiced so-called reparative therapy, designed to cure patients of their homosexuality.

Hunkered Down Inside #OccupyWallStreet

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 3:38 PM EDT
A protester keeps the jam going in Zuccotti Park.

A topless model the Tea Party should see, grandmas who dig rap music, and Ron Paul supporters everywhere: As of Saturday, MoJo's Josh Harkinson is camping out in Zuccotti Park, and we're collecting his dispatches and other #OWS must reads below, using Storify. Read on for much more.

Also, don't miss the rest of MoJo's coverage: Meet the activists who created "We Are the 99 Percent"; check out the former Obama blogger who scorned the protesters until he joined them; explore our interactive map of protest hot spots nationwide; and more.


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Eric Cantor Uses Palin's Playbook

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 1:55 PM EDT

I just can't help but wonder how he does it.

Appearing at the 2009 Value Voters Summit—the right-wing's version of Woodstock—Congressman Eric Cantor stood before his 'peeps' to offer up his blessings for the newly minted protest movement we now know as The Tea Party. Cantor praised the group of protesters by announcing that they were "fighting on the fighting lines in what we know is a battle for democracy."

This morning, appearing at the 2011 edition of the Value Voters Summit—this time as the House Majority Leader—Cantor had this to say about the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the politicians who have shown a willingness to support them:

This administration's failed policies have resulted in an assault on many of our nation's bedrock principles," he said. "If you read the newspapers today, I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town, have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans. But you sent us here to fight for you and all Americans.

So, when a politician like, say, Eric Cantor, praises the Tea Party ranks for occupying wide swaths of the nation's capital to protest the policies of their fellow Americans, this, apparently, would not be a case of a politician condoning the pitting of Americans against Americans. However, every similar type of protest staged by a movement that the majority leader does not support becomes an unacceptable clash between countrymen.

Georgia Redistricting Map: DOA at the DOJ?

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 12:15 PM EDT
Gov. Nathan Deal.

Georgia has the hopped aboard the redistricting bandwagon. On Thursday, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice, arguing that their new electoral maps for its state House, state Senate, and Congressional House races comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

States re-draw their voting districts every ten years or so to reflect population changes indicated in the latest US Census data. Under Section Five of the VRA, Georgia is one of nine states required to pre-clear its maps (and other changes to election law) with the DOJ or the DC district court. These states, most of which reside in the South, have troubling records of disenfranchising their minority populations.

The trouble is, these states still can't seem to get it right (see Texas, Alabama, and Arizona). But Deal and his fellow Georgia Republicans, who passed a tough new immigration law several months ago, are also asking the DOJ to pre-empt their lawsuit and approve the plan on their own. If they do so, Deal, et. al, will drop the suit. 

Democrats are calling BS, the Journal-Constitution reports:

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said it does not matter to her if the state went first to the Justice Department or to court.

Republicans' "violations of the Voting Rights Act...regardless of the route they take, the end result will be one that rejects maps that re-segregate Georgia," she said.

Abrams said her party's hopes for the maps' rejection were bolstered recently by the Justice Department's decision to challenge Texas' redistricting plan and by a federal judge's decision in Alabama to reject a challenge of the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

"If one takes the Alabama decision from the courts and the Texas decision by the Justice Department together, it's clear Georgia's maps will face some very strong challenges," she said.

House GOP Leader Eric Cantor Calls Occupy Protests "Mobs"

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 12:03 PM EDT
House Maj. Leader Eric Cantor.

To no one's surprise, conservatives of all stripes have done their best to dismiss and disparage the Occupy Wall Street protests and the hundreds more Occupy protests springing up around the country. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the protests as "dangerous" and "class warfare." Right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh called the Occupy Wall Street protesters "stupid." And another GOP presidential contender, Herman Cain, not only told those Occupy protesters without a job to blame themselves for being unemployed, but also suggested the protests were a conspiracy "planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration."

On Friday morning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined the chorus of doubters, even sounding fearful about the protests. At the Values Voter Summit here in Washington, DC, Cantor said, "I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans."

Here's the video, via ThinkProgress:

Is Soaking the Rich...Dangerous??

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 9:15 AM EDT

This week, top Democrats—including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—are locked into a full-court press, calling for a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires to help pay for the president's $445 billion jobs bill. In the week that is/was Occupy Wall Street, that sounds like a can't-miss political winner.

But the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman says, "Hey, slow down!" While the surtax would raise the average tax bill of millionaires by some $110,000, the fact is that there simply aren't enough millionaires to actually solve the country's fiscal problems. "If we are going to get serious about the deficit, people making $200,000 (or even $100,000) have got to help out," Gleckman suggests.

Gleckman's chief concern: That the surtax will torpedo any realistic effort at long-term tax reform. Thanks to tax changes in the offing—the expected expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which will spike the top rate to 39.6 and curb a number of exemptions, along with a .9 percent surtax on expensive plans as part of health care reform—the top marginal tax rate for millionaires would climb to nearly 50 percent by 2013. And according to the current schedule, the tax rate on capital gains will also almost double by 2013.

So what's the problem?

With rates this high, the political pressure to protect tax preferences will be enormous. After all, the rich are going to fight much harder to protect breaks that are worth 50 cents on the dollar than one that is worth only 35 cents. And I stupidly thought the idea was to lower rates and eliminate these subsidies.

Reid wants to be able to say that Republicans blocked a critical jobs bill just to protect their fat-cat millionaire pals. Give him credit for smart politics: By replacing the potpourri of tax increases Obama would have used to pay for his stimulus bill with a simple, easy to understand millionaire tax, the Senate Democratic leader has done a wonderful job clarifying his party’s message.